Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sweeping Environmental Protections For Jamaica Bay

June 22, 2016

In the final hours of this year’s legislative session, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Broad Channel) and state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Broad Channel) secured a five-year extension to landmark legislation preventing the dumping of toxic materials into Jamaica Bay.         
“Jamaica Bay is a vital resource for the entire community. It supports so much of the recreational and economic activity that benefits thousands of families across southern Queens andRockaway. It is also critical habitat for our fragile coastal ecosystem and we have a responsibility to preserve and protect it,” said Assemblyman Goldfeder. “Extending the ban on dumping toxic materials into the Jamaica Bay borrow pits will ensure that we continue to maintain this special place now and for future generations.”     
“It has been a pleasure to work with Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder in protecting the delicate ecology of Jamaica Bay, which includes unique salt marshes, and taking action to prevent any environmental degradation that may result in a loss of wildlife habitat, compromised water quality and other negative consequences for the area. I am hopeful this new bill to extend protections will be signed into law by Governor Cuomo,” said Senator Addabbo.      
Last Thursday, state legislators in both the Senate and Assembly passed bill A10560/S08043 to create a five-year extension to legislation by Assemblyman Goldfeder and Senator Addabbo prohibiting the dumping of toxic materials into the borrow pits under Jamaica Bay. 
This extends through 2022 language in state Environmental Conservation Law requiring permits for filling borrow pits with materials generated by dredging projects in area waterways. Under this restriction, the sediments must also meet the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Class A criteria for chemical contamination, the state’s highest sediment classification.         
The DEC spells out sediment classifications in its Technical and Operational Guidance Series (TOGS), a compendium of regulatory and enforcement mechanisms aimed at protecting New York water quality in the state’s lakes, rivers and coastlines. The TOGS classifies sediment by Classes A-C based on the levels of chemicals and heavy metals present, with Class A indicating “no toxicity to aquatic life” while Class C confirms “acute toxicity to aquatic life.” The class A requirement in Goldfeder and Addabbo’s bill would provide the highest level of environmental protection to the bay and surrounding habitats.         
The future of the Bay’s borrow pits has long been a point of contention between state and federal officials; and area residents and environmental activists.         
The term “borrow pits” refers to areas of deeper water depths in the bay created by projects that excavated, or “borrowed,” seabed sediments for use in other areas. The largest and deepest of these is the borrow pit directly adjacent to JFK International Airport, which supplied landfill for expansion projects at the major transit hub. Borrow pits have also been created for the construction of Floyd Bennett Fieldand other public works.         
In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed filling the borrow pits with sediment generated by dredging in New York harbor. According to the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, a local environmentalist group, the proposal was an effort on the part of the federal government to dispose of sediments deemed too toxic under federal guidelines for dumping in the ocean. The waters around Jamaica Bay form part of the National Park Service’s Gateway Recreational Area and also fall under the jurisdiction of the state DEC.       
In 2012, Goldfeder and Addabbo partnered with the Ecowatchers to introduce legislation banning the dumping of these toxic materials into the bay. Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law in 2014, however the language included a June 30th, 2017 expiration date, leading to this most recent extension proposed by the legislators. The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers welcome Goldfeder and Addabbo’s new push as a potentially major step in protecting the bay for future generations.         
“The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers commend Assemblyman Goldfeder and Senator Addabbo for passing this critical legislation and we urge to governor Cuomo to sign it,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., President of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers. “It is fitting that the assemblyman’s last bill before leaving office will provide long-term protection for this community and environment and put a halt to a horrible plan which was driven purely by economics. Assemblyman Goldfeder is going out the way that he has served his constituents from day one, which is fighting the good fight looking out for the families he served and protecting beautiful areas like Jamaica Bay for generations to come. Environmental groups around the bay applaud Assemblyman Goldfeder and state Senator Joseph Addabbo’s efforts to get this bill passed.”         
The passage of the bill last week amounted to an eleventh hour victory for the Queens officials. Both houses unanimously voted in favor of the bill during the evening of the last scheduled day of session for the year, which was later extended into Friday. Goldfeder and Addabbo are now calling on Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law.         
“We thank Dan Mundy and all the environmental advocates for their tireless work and urge Governor Cuomo to join our bipartisan effort to protect Jamaica Bay for years to come,” said the legislators.

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